Can wearable tech fit the enterprise?


Wearable technology was a key feature at this year’s Consumer Electronics Show, but how close are we to seeing wearables transform the enterprise IT industry in the same way that smartphones and tablets have?

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So far, there seem to be very few genuine enterprise applications for wearable tech. The notable exception is in healthcare, where wearables are already making significant inroads into the market. From x-ray specs for nurses, to virtual surgery using augmented reality technology and Google Glass, healthcare and life sciences companies seem to be taking to wearables with gusto.

A digital pill a day keeps the doctor away

Cheap sensors and tiny computers like Intel’s Edison make it easy for doctors to keep an eye on their patients, or for parents to keep an eye on their babies. Pills housing ingestible sensors will soon deliver information to your doctor on your heart rate, respiration, sleep patterns, and whether or not you took the other pills when you were supposed to.

So where are the applications that will make CEOs in other industries sit up and take notice? Wearables for improving employee productivity and making business processes more efficient are pretty thin on the ground.

But hang on a minute…

If we can monitor patients and babies, surely we can monitor our employees? And there are any number of wearable devices for the ultra-health-conscious or just plain self-obsessed to track, quantify and log every aspect of their lives, so why can’t employers do the same with their workers?

Just think of the data you could accumulate. The analytics possibilities would make any Chief Operations Officer jump up and down with toddler-like glee. Employees, on the other hand, might not feel quite so thrilled to have all their movements, behaviours – and even their emotional responses – monitored and analysed. That’s a tough sell for any organisation, but if the devices can be shown to improve employees’ working lives as well as monitoring their activities, it’s much easier to drive adoption.

Is it me you’re looking for?

Perhaps the most obvious use for wearables in the enterprise is in user authentication and access management. At the right price, wearables that can accurately verify your identity to provide a seamless workplace experience wherever you happen to be could easily find a home at forward-thinking companies.

One word of warning though. There’s plenty of anecdotal evidence that enterprise adoption of tablets has largely been driven by C-level execs, as they skip into the office with their new toys and demand to know why IT hasn’t kitted out the entire workforce with them. So if enough CEOs get on board with this, we could see the first Chief Air Traffic Officer appointments before too long.

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